The Class of 2012
College Graduation is Now a Community Affair: Help Comes from Strangers, as Well as Faculty and Friends
PHILADELPHIA, May 15, 2012 — Last week, as she prepared for her May 5 graduation from Community College of Philadelphia, Whitney Lopez paused long enough to remember the faculty who embraced her and kept her education on track after her grandmother died. While she grieved, faculty and counselors formed a support group to check in with her daily, listen as she mourned, and help her keep up with class assignments.
Christopher Thomas, the student speaker at the Commencement ceremony, told his peers just how grateful he was for the multitude of donors who had given scholarships to him and others. He recalled just how close he had come to dropping out of college—a second time. The Dr. Lorraine H. Brown Scholarship in Memory of the Floyd Family he received at the end of his second semester revived his self-confidence.
"My first two semesters were tough because I was still carrying a lot of baggage around with me, but somehow I managed to get seven As and one C in those two semesters, earning a 3.75 Grade Point Average (GPA). However, so severe were the personal issues in my life that even a high GPA wasn’t enough to stop me from seriously thinking about dropping out of the College, just as I had dropped out of Temple University 16 years prior,” he said. “Then I had an epiphany. My outlook changed then, and I resolved to complete my associate’s degree, no matter what."
The donors who came together to help Thomas and Lopez, who between them received five Community College of Philadelphia Foundation scholarships, will get a huge return on their investment. Lopez is one of nine students headed for Bryn Mawr College next fall while Christopher is among three graduates accepted at the University of Pennsylvania.
Community College of Philadelphia, like other institutions, is creating new initiatives to support student success, retention and achievement. Some, like Achieving the Dream, are academically focused to improve student learning outcomes by establishing an early alert system to identify failing students, provide comprehensive student orientation and professional development for faculty. The results are promising. Between 2007 and 2010, the average fall-to-fall semester persistence rate for all first-time students increased by 5 percentage points.
Other initiatives address the life challenges faced by students who need "not a hand out, but a hand up," as Richard S. Downs, emeritus director of the Community College of Philadelphia Foundation likes to say.
The Foundation works in concert with the Office of Institutional Advancement (OIA) to raise the money that provides a hand up through scholarships, an emergency book fund to help financially-strapped students get textbooks, and grants that create learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom that might not otherwise be possible.
"Thinking outside the box when establishing scholarships helps address the day-to-day struggles of our students and makes a direct impact on their success," said OIA Vice President Marsha Ray. "Gifts like these speak to the core of our mission."
The two-year-old Scholarship to the Finish Line is an example of outside-the-box thinking. Finish Line helps deserving students who are no more than 15 credits away from their associate’s degrees, but who have maxed out their financial aid. So far, 50 students have received tuition scholarships to help them complete their degree.
The Foundation and OIA have raised more than $7.5 million from public and private resources for student scholarships and programs since July 2010. More than 700 scholarships totaling nearly $1 million were awarded in fiscal year 2011.
The "College Family" of current and retired faculty and staff are among the Foundation’s most faithful donors. Current employees can make regular payroll contributions or dig even deeper as did the part-time faculty member who recently gave $100,000 to establish a Creative Writing scholarship. Their generosity continues into retirement with donors like Ruth Rovner, a retired English professor. Rovner supports a yearly scholarship recognizing a student for academic achievement and for success in coping with challenges and overcoming barriers to reach goals. However, the depth of need revealed in the students’ applications inspired Rovner to award not just two, but 11 scholarships in the past two years. “I’ve been so impressed with the outstanding accomplishments of students who have overcome so many obstacles,” she said. “The interaction I have with the recipients has been so rewarding.”
The personal interaction with the student recipients is partly what attracts philanthropists Kal and Lucille Rudman, who are long-standing supporters of the College. Rudman said he also
appreciates the working relationship he has developed with College administrators. “It’s a pleasure to respond to people who want to work with you; people who aren’t afraid to connect with you,” Rudman said.
Through their namesake foundation, the couple support tuition assistance programs that have supported more than 376 Philadelphia police officers attending courses in the College’s Justice program. They also support a Nurse Aide program that provides tuition, books, supplies and the State Board exam fees for up to 20 trainees a year. Some 50 trainees have completed the program since 2008, and the Rudmans were there to see each trainee receive their certificate.
The impact of their gifts is apparent as police officers with college credentials move more quickly into leadership positions within the Police Department, and formerly unemployed or underemployed trainees leave the Nurse Aide program for higher wage jobs and a renewed confidence.
For more information about the Community College of Philadelphia Foundation, please call 215-751-8042.